When Bethesda Game Studio director Todd “it just works” Howard took to the stage at E3 2018 to announce the surprise release of the first online, multiplayer Fallout title, reactions were…mixed. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone really. Taking a lauded single-player RPG experience and compressing it into an MMO-lite framework didn’t particularly sound like anyone’s ideal Fallout experience. Still, Bethesda was evidently committed to this course of action and with that Fallout 76 was dropped on an audience who didn’t quite know what to expect.
If reactions to the announcement were mixed it would be fair to call the game’s launch and subsequent launch months a total shitshow. The game was plagued with bugs, server issues and unfulfilled promises (issues which still haunt the game over a year later). Amid the chaos, however, small pockets of player ingenuity and engagement were beginning to emerge.
When discussing the game before launch, Howard had hoped that players would essentially function as quest givers/NPCs to other online players, forming a roleplaying community to fill in the void the game’s massive, empty world presented.
In a sense, Howard’s vision of player-driven narratives has come to fruition, though in ways about as unexpected as the game’s announcement itself. Youtuber Many A True Nerd has led the charge on this with projects such as his Welcome Camp which, you guessed it, welcomes new players into the world with a helping hand.
Players are also known to offer supplies and combat assistance to others who are being griefed in PVP or generally struggling against the harsh wastelands.
Galaxy News Radio Drama
Outside of the game world, however, a different kind of Fallout 76 experience has emerged.
Meet Kenneth Vigue, an immensely talented writer, actor and producer, who has spent the better part of the past year creating and publishing CHAD: A Fallout 76 Story. The show is a funny, often enthralling, radio drama about the life and times of the surviving Vault Dwellers and their run-ins with titular Chad.
It is equal parts dry comedy, tense post-apocalyptic survival tale and, at times, a reflective mood piece.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Vigue about what inspired the show and how he feels it fits in with the larger Fallout franchise’s spotty, but enduring, place in gaming.
PowerUp! – When Fallout 76 was first announced Todd Howard said that ideally players would take the empty world and fill it with narratives of their own, essentially becoming the NPCs to another player’s quest. How do you feel your show fits in with this idea, if at all?
Vigue – I agree with him and my experience in the game since Beta has been amazing. This is NOT a game for people who play solo and prefer to not play with others.
It will be after Wastelanders, but for me it forced me out of my comfort zone to reach out to others, join factions and make friends. Fallout players historically have been ALL about roleplaying and this game took out that fundamental element that has always been a mainstay.
This really isn’t a roleplaying game…sure you can decide to be a dickhead raider and grief people if you want…or build a comic book store, but that isn’t really roleplay without being able to embrace those elements and make a story.
I formed my own faction in the early days The Appalachia Trading Co. and later had the pleasure of joining E.A.T.T. (Establishment of Appalachian Taste Testers) who are cannibals and also the Fallout 5-0 who have some of the best player scripted roleplaying events in the fandom. The Fallout 5-0 in particular are the only faction I’ve stumbled upon who delivered on what Todd Howard and Bethesda were hoping for…which is unfortunate.
I think with this game they had lofty goals of players interacting with each other and building communities of their own…but that ship has sailed. The PVP aspect of the game inherently builds toxicity and fear of others that fly in the face of people coming together… It’s a shame in a way.
In the early days, everyone’s mic was on, so we could hear someone singing, eating potato chips (or in one instance a couple who was debating who was being tied up that evening) off in the distance and go over and say hello. You don’t get that experience any more sadly.
However, because of the lack of a narrative for my character, it inspired me to write the initial journal entries of Simon’s adventures in Appalachia that I shared in Fallout groups that went viral and led to the creation of this show. Another reason I can’t complain about this game.
PU! – It’s no secret that Fallout 76 has had a troubled time finding its feet with the gaming community. Do you feel like shows like yours will help bring in new players or bring back old ones?
Vigue – One of the things a lot of our fans write to me about or comment about in our reviews, is that our show has made them appreciate the Fallout 76 world more…making it seem less empty and devoid of character and life. A lot of people who hated Fallout 76 have embraced our show nonetheless as it gives them the kind of likeable characters, complex and satisfying storytelling they yearn for.
I’ve always believed Obsidian’s strong point is their ability to write great stories and dialogue, whereas Bethesda’s is in creating world spaces…it’s just such a shame there isn’t a happy middle. For our story, I’ve tried to bridge the gap by creating a better storyline and conflict than what we’ve been given in the game.
There are specific narrative choices I’ve made to bridge the gap with some of the game lore, plot holes and unique opportunities of things found in the wasteland. Why did the door open 5 years later than it was supposed to according to the lore? Why do we live in a space where death has no consequence and we can just respawn? Why are there SOOOO many fucking nukes everywhere readily available?
Why are there workshops and an environment that pushes into fighting each other? All of these are questions we address this season in a really interesting arc that I think fans are going to enjoy when it becomes clear what is really going on.
SPOILER: it’s not a Matrix thing and this isn’t a simulation…that idea has been floated around and was way too obvious and simple.
Ghost Stories And Tea
While the show’s writing and characters ooze charm the way an irradiated scorpion does poison, Vigue’s secret weapon is his touching origin story and love for the craft. From a young age Vigue’s grandmother would take him to the local library where hidden away in a forgotten space in the three-story building, was a collection of classic radio dramas. For those unfamiliar with the concept imagine an audiobook but with high production values and played on the radio.
It was in that room lost to time, through a medium the world has largely forgotten, that Vigue discovered his joy for “audio wizardry” as he so beautifully puts it. The radio drama is a perfect medium to adapt to podcasts, fortunately, allowing Vigue an outlet for both his love of Fallout 76‘s blank slate world and imaginative storytelling of days gone by.
It’s an impossibly charming mental picture Vigue spins as he talks about his grandmother and I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask how she felt about his work. Time works in cruel ways though, as the woman responsible for launching a life long passion for storytelling, unfortunately, passed several years ago. Any loss leaves a hole in those left behind but there is a specific sting to Vigue’s ward never getting the chance to appreciate his work.
She was…incredibly supportive and nurturing to me growing up, taking the time to expose me to the arts and encourage me to be creative” Vigue tells me. “It was my grandmother who really pushed me into reading and explore my imagination. She loved classic radio and I would spend summers with her at our summer home up on an island off the coast of New Brunswick.
We didn’t have TV up there, just radio, cassette tapes, books and a woodstove near the beach. I think that environment and that place greatly shaped my character and even how I write, when I first started doing creative writing up there on those long, endless summers.
There also weren’t any young people there, so I was surrounded by older people who come over for tea randomly and just sit and tell rich stories of the old days…ghost stories, war stories…just stories. I would sit there and listen and I think so much of that rubbed off on me on wanting to tell great stories to others.
It’s inspiration worn well by Vigue as CHAD: A Fallout 76 Story spins evocative imagery when it’s not being sharply funny. Much of this comes down to the excellent ambient sound work done for each episode but across all elements of production, there is a firm sense of place and texture to the story being told.
Vigue goes on to discuss how works from prolific writers such as Stephen King, John Bellairs and Ray Bradbury all inspired him to fill his work with poignant descriptions of a wasteland.
Behind The Vault Tech
PU! – How much time does it usually take you from writing to finished product with the show and can you tell me a little about the process?
Vigue – Writing for me is actually the least complicated thing at the moment aside from formatting everything in my head into script format and getting it down on the page. The hardest and most time-consuming thing is actually the editing and sound production.
Because I really work hard on created soundscapes in a classic radio drama fashion so you can really “see” that action through sound, it takes a lot of time to get it right. For our Sickleman 1980s summer camp homage in Episodes 5 and 6, those took me a month to edit to get right.
I think this approach makes our podcast unique and if anything has got people who have never listened to podcasts before to tune in as it’s so different than what they’ve heard before.
PU! – What will you do when Fallout 5 rolls around?
Vigue – Play it of course! I’ve been a fan since Fallout 3 and I’ll play every variation. I tried to go back and play Fallout 1 and 2, but growing up with isometric games…I just can’t go back in time to it. I wish I had played those back in the day as I’d probably connect with them more.
CHAD: A Fallout 76 Story can be found streaming on most Podcast services. Head over to the show’s official site for more information.